How lizard smuggler hid dozens of reptiles
A self-professed animal lover illegally exported exotic Australian lizards stuffed inside cooking appliances for $600 per package in what has been described as an "atrocious" case of animal cruelty.
Jeng Chiang, 28, from Taiwan, pleaded guilty in Melbourne Magistrates' Court to 67 charges including aggravated cruelty to an animal, possessing wildlife unlawfully, and packing an animal in a way that causes unnecessary pain.
The tourist, who was working in Bundaberg, admitted sending a total of 40 eastern water dragons, 19 eastern blue-tongue lizards, and one black-headed monitor in six separate consignments bound for Hong Kong through Australia Post.
Chiang wiped away tears as Magistrate Alan Spillane yesterday jailed him for six months, saying his "despicable conduct" was "extreme cruelty to defenceless animals".
"You have shown a complete callous disregard for the welfare of these animals," Mr Spillane said. "It was done purely for profit."
Surveillance images showed Chiang walking to a Melbourne CBD post office with shopping bags containing the live lizards after picking them up out of boxes left in a public toilet on January 21 this year. He had organised the pick-up through phone app WeChat.
His arrest two days later ended a 10-month joint investigation by the Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning, Australian Border Force, Department of Environment and Energy, Australia Post and RSPCA Victoria.
The court heard he came to Australia in September to work on a farm in Bundaberg, Queensland, for a month to make money to help his sick mother.
But while there he met a Chinese man who offered him a chance to make more money.
He returned in December on a three-month tourist visa to take up the man's offer.
When his lawyer told the court he was "someone who loves animals", Mr Spillane quipped: "Really?"
Prosecutor Ty McLeod had earlier detailed how the animals had their legs taped to restrict their movements and were stuffed in socks before being concealed in the bottom of rice cookers and steamers.
One blue-tongue lizard was so badly injured that it had to be euthanased, Mr McLeod said.
"The veterinary reports on this matter show these animals suffered a lot of stress," he said.
"Cruelty here is a big aspect. They were put on a long-haul flight with no food, no water and no thermal control."
Mr Spillane took into consideration Chiang's guilty plea, the fact he had no priors and had been co-operative with authorities, but said "they hardly detract from the atrocious conduct".
Anyone with information of illegal wildlife trafficking is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.